Guest Article: Stephen Roche; A Study in The V

Guest Article: Stephen Roche; A Study in The V

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It is with an especially acute understanding of pushing oneself to ones limits, having just completed my second assault on Haleakala, with which I select this Guest Article, a first contribution from community member Scaler911. 

Especially acute in this case meaning that reading this account reminds me that I have no idea how to suffer on a climb. None at all. If I could ride like Roche, I would have done the climb an hour faster and the maximum elevation would have been crushed down by at least 300 feet from the Pedal Stomping Effect, which is commonly known to reduce a hill’s elevation. Enjoy the read.

Yours in cycling,


I hold a special place in my heart for the Irish. Both sides of my family are from the Emerald Isle, and I’ve done some traveling there. Early in my racing career, I started following the Euro-pros and was drawn to the strong men of Belgium and Ireland. The list is of course topped by King Eddy. In close second, I give you Stephen Roche.

Early in his pre-contract days, Roche had to “…win, or go back to Ireland…” to work a machine shop at a dairy. That season he won the amateur version of Paris-Roubiax.

In his debut professional season, 1981, Roche threw down The V on none other than Le Blaireau himself at the Tour de Corse. And it’s not like Hinault was at the end of his career; he had already had won three Tours, the Vuelta, the Giro, and was currently wearing ‘The Hoops’ around his torso. Less than a month later, Roche won Paris-Nice even though he was ill.

In the ’87 Giro, Roche was to be riding in support of teammate Roberto Visentini, the defending champion and local guy. Roche attacked his teammate, drawing scorn from the tifosi, but ending up with the Maglia Rosa on his back in St. Vincent. Poor sportsmanship? Perhaps, but LeMan would have more yellow jerseys above his fireplace had he done the same. And, besides, Visentini’s palmares pale in comparison (who’s Visentini?) and Roche doubted his teammates promise to return the favor for the TdF. Sound familiar?

Later that same year at le Tour, Hinault had retired, and LeMan was recovering from his bird hunting escapades, Roche was the favorite. 1987 saw the most mountainous Tour since the war. On stage 20, crossing Galibier, Madeleine, and finishing on La Plagne, Roche attacked early. Delgado then attacked, and Roche found himself 1:30 down in the middle of the last climb. He then crushed the remainder, in his big ring, pulling back all but 4 seconds. After crossing the finish line, he collapsed and lost consciousness. He came to after receiving oxygen and was asked if he was OK. His reply was “yes, but I am not ready for a woman straight away” (and that, my friends, is how it’s done).

At the end of a fantastic season thus far, Roche arrived in Austria for Worlds with little training under his belt. In the role of domestique to his countryman Sean Kelly, Roche was covering breaks all day. At the end, he was still covering Argentin, and being away, attacked at 500m. He got the cycling world’s ‘Triple Crown’, a feat only achieved by one other hardman, Merckx. A few days later, Kelly and he went 1-2 at the Nissan Classic.

Had Roche not been plagued by recurring knee injuries, I think he would have given the King a run for his money as the toughest bastard to ever throw his leg over a top tube.

“I never want to abandon my bike. I see my grandfather, now in his seventies and riding around everywhere. To me that is beautiful. And the bike must always remain a part of my life.” – Stephen Roche.

// Guest Article // Nostalgia // The Hardmen

  1. @scaler911
    Greater article Scaler, a hardman indeed!

  2. @Pedale.Forchetta

    I kind of know what you mean, I’m Irish (as in actually born and raised there), in my early 40’s (just) so I grew up with Kelly and Roche (and yes we always seemed to put it in that order). I never really connected either, and I may not be correct here but the Irish population seemed to connect more with Kelly. Roche’s achievements couldn’t be argued with, he is probably our greatest international sportsman (we’re a small nation that mostly play sports no one has heard of) he was always approachable at the races in Ireland and UK but yet while Kelly was incapable of being really coherent to a camera, his rural unassuming demeanour always made him more popular. Still, Roche got me hooked in 87, Kelly kept me hooked.

  3. Speaking of awesome video (and photos) I know lots of Aussies read the Cycling Tips blog but for anyone who doesn’t/hasn’t check this out.

    And on marriage, yes I agree with Dr C. It’s very much based on the marriageometer. My wife is tolerably indulgent of my riding and bike expenditure, and I probably spend more on bike stuff than she does on personal items so I can’t complain.

    It’s not the marriage that locks you down, it’s the kids. Of course they make up for it in other ways… then they become teenagers.

    The answer of course is to get the kids into cycling. My middle one is a keen cyclist – he’s not competitive but he’ll just grind away at something, not caring if he’s the best or not. Born to audax I suspect.

    I have a plan that when he’s about 16-17, and I’m 50 we will do some sort of cycling odyssey. I would really like to cycle the length of the US – follow the Mississippi down to New Orleans, but I suspect that the dangers of being run over are rather too high for my liking. Have ruled out Land’s End-JOG for the same reason.

    So I’m open to suggestion. Maybe something in Australia – What would it be like to cycle along the Great Ocean Road ?

  4. Roche = legend. Sin é

  5. I wanna change Article II of the Constitution so this guy can be mayor; fuckin’ awesome!

    Can you imagine if Sam Adams (mayor of Portland OR) tried this?

  6. I meant President.

  7. @aleco

  8. Nice read. Brief and bright! I always am/was a fan of the Irish cyclist. Tough guys. But there are also tough girls … from the other isle close-by. British cyclist Emma Pooley won the Alpenbrevet “Gold” tour (~170 km, 5300 m t.c. in only 6h48min). She bet the fastest man by 5 min and the 2nd placed woman by 85 min! I would like to see her climbing the Volcano …

  9. @scaler911

    Nice stuff mate.

    I was never a huge fan of Roche, but I remember his ride in a Tour in the early 90’s, a mountain top finish, coming through the thick fog… it was a bit of a swansong for him at the time, not a GC contender anymore, but still with plenty of class to make his mark one more time.

  10. Ah, La Bourboule – his final Tour stage win. That’s a classic bit of imagery in my mind also, Bretto.

  11. @Marcus
    Stroof, mate! Didn’t you get a bike fit??

  12. @ChrisO
    “I have a plan that when he’s about 16-17, and I’m 50 we will do some sort of cycling odyssey. I would really like to cycle the length of the US – follow the Mississippi down to New Orleans, but I suspect that the dangers of being run over are rather too high for my liking. Have ruled out Land’s End-JOG for the same reason.

    So I’m open to suggestion. Maybe something in Australia – What would it be like to cycle along the Great Ocean Road ?”

    Not sure the GOR is long enough to qualify as an odyssey. But you question does make one consider what would qualify here in Aust.

    For the type of trip you suggest, maybe circumnavigate Tasmania or ride Melb to Adelaide to see the Tour Down Under? Nullabor would be a tad dodgy, a great adventure if you survived. Cairns to Brisbane would be epic or Bris to Cairns for that matter. A few of us have talked about doing a BIG ride someday, might have to prod that idea along a bit I think.

  13. @anotherdownunder

    Ah, OK, I thought the GOR went all the way along from Melbourne to Adelaide. Presumably it’s part of that route though ? So riding to the TDU sounds like a good idea actually – I like that.

    I’ve got five years before it’s due, but I’m up for a practice run in UK/Europe next year if any Euro-Velominati fancy it.

  14. Great artcile. I’ve always wanted to go to Roche’s cycling camp in Majorca.

  15. @James
    Perfect demonstration of the Three-Point System, I might add.

    @brett, @Oli
    He seemed to almost master those finishes where the cameras didn’t work, due to weather. The cameras shut down, then – BOOM – there’s Roche! Awesome!

    Check out the slack in his chain there in the photo above. He just shortened his chainstay by V!

  16. @Pedale.Forchetta
    I don’t know enough about the ins and outs of the dynamic there, and there are always two sides of any story only one of which the English-speaking world is likely to see.

    All those things aside, I generally don’t like it when teammates attack each other; and I dislike both parties for it. LeMond/Hinault and Armstrong/Contador had the same effect on me. It’s just not cool. Hinault was an ass for attacking him, and LeMond was a whiney bitch about it. Armstrong and Conty are just both douchebags, so in the end, that one was a wash.

    All that aside, in the case of Roche (and LeMond), they went on to redeem themselves through classy riding, and I guess in my short-memory fueled enthusiasm for cycling, that’s good enough for me.

  17. @ChrisO
    GOR is 270 klms long and Melb to Adel is about 1000 if you go the coast road, which you would choose over the highway. Not sure how much of the true coast road is ridable especially around Mt Gambier onwards as have never been there, but would be a big trip.

  18. @ChrisO
    1. Great Ocean Road is a beautiful stretch of road – but effing dangerous as it is very windy (as in turns), with not much shoulder and lots of cars, especially in summer.

    2. Riding Melbourne to Adelaide is, from all reports, crap.

    3. Australia has some great riding, but not in areas like you are considering. You would be far better off planning some sort of ride schedule that takes in the Victorian Alpine areas (only “Alpine” as far as we can get them), then drive back to Melbourne and fly to Adelaide.

    4. Adelaide is a shithole. If it wasn’t for the TDU, you would never go. Reckon there might be better races to travel half a world to see…

  19. Tour Of Southland is one. Go a bit further, while the rest of the Southern Hemishpere is enjoying summer you can go get blown off the side of the road in Invercargill, snowed on and freeze your nanas off. We had Floyd Landis come race it a couple years ago. That’s right, right before he retired. Now we know why.

  20. Great interview with Roche talking La Plagne (Roche v Delgado La Plagne 87).

  21. That time trial, where Roche effectively won the Tour, was the first stage of the Tour that I ever saw and, to this day remains in my mind as the most outstanding individual effort I have seen. If Landis hadn’t have lied about cheating and had have been placed on oxygen after falling off his bike he may have come close.

  22. Pure awesomeness….I had forgotten about this quote!  I love it when these old articles pop up to be redigested and remind us what mere mortals we are!

     He came to after receiving oxygen and was asked if he was OK. His reply was “yes, but I am not ready for a woman straight away

  23. It has been said that the falling off/oxygen/ medical assistance was a plan to get Roche off the mountain earlier (By helicopter) & back in the hotel earlier to start recovery for the following day. Delgado was delayed on the mountain for ages giving media interviews + a long trek (Several hours) by car back to the hotel afterwards. This is not to play down the Mega-V of Roche, but he was very smart as well as tough. In Ireland there were 2 camps, you were either a Roche man or a Kelly man (You could be both but …) Roche was from Dublin & came across as slick, professional articulate, film star smile & a sponsors dream (See Calvita Cheese TV ad). Kelly was a from the country. All function & little film star appeal :) Country people tended to associate with Kelly & city folk tended to associate with Roche. Being from rural Ireland Kelly was God around here & Roche was for the Dubs.

  24. @slatanic I am afraid, regardless of the age old “country vs city” debate.  It is the quote that makes him awesome, not the fact that he fell off his bike and needed oxygen.

    It may be said that the quote actually saved him from a pre-Velominati cheeky monkey popping up and quoting Rule #5 at him….and we all know where that discussion leads!

  25. I have a soft spot for Roche.  To get back into cycling after not riding a road bike for 35 odd years I bought a Battaglin off of eBay that is a former team bike in the red white and blue color scheme of Roche.  I have to admit that I had no idea who he was or what Battaglin bike I was getting at the time, but has been a great riding bike and is from an era that I remember, if vaguely.

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